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The Pebble Beach Experience: A First-Timer's Look at the World's Most Extravagant Celebration of Cars

Pebble Beach weekend is one of the best car events in the world, but what's it like for a newbie?

By Jacob Brown | Photos By Jacob Brown | September 17, 2013

Day One: Thank You, Shiro

Infiniti affectionately calls the first night with its guests "Shiro Night," dedicated to Shiro Nakamura, the Creative Director of Nissan Motors, parent company of both Nissan and its luxury offshoot, Infiniti. After a long career with Isuzu and General Motors, Nakamura joined Nissan right as it had fallen into hard times in 1999 with the intention of cleaning up its style and direction. Along with ruthless ambition from new CEO of Nissan Motors, Carlos Ghosn, Nakamura started carving a compelling design direction, helping bring Nissan back.
Since then, he's created dedicated teams at Nissan, Infiniti, and the newly revived Datsun brand to autonomously design the brands' products. To paraphrase "Dangerous Minds," he is the light. He's also one of the big advocates for Infiniti's presence at Pebble, making it an annual pilgrimage to learn from the past and embrace its future. The legend--I think he deserves every bit of that title--just celebrated his 10th anniversary of attending the event, something he'd been looking forward to with Infiniti. Says Shiro of his favorite parts of Pebble week: "It's interesting because it's the big three events all together: Quail, [Monterey Historics at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca], and Pebble Beach. Any other classic car event is just one day. This is nice. You can see the classic car racing at Laguna Seca and you can see cars here. On Friday morning, you can go to Quail. And you can see all kinds of classic auctions here. The range of the cars they are putting up for auction is amazing." We sat down with him, Alfanso Albaisa, the head of Infiniti design, and Infiniti CEO Johan de Nysschen, dozens of guests gathered around a long table as if it were the last supper with flank steaks, scallops, and flowing wine from the nearby Napa Valley. Needless to say, I never felt underfed during the trip. It was certainly a step up from In-N-Out Burger.

Normal People Own Lamborghinis, Too

You can only see so many Ferrari Testarossas before becoming desensitized to them. When you get to the tenth in a row, what are you supposed to say: "Wow, this one is black instead of red" or "I wonder how expensive it is to change the timing belt"? At that point, it becomes a transportation device, albeit one with cheese-grater-quality strakes in its doors and some sort of exotic Italian flair.
At Concorso Italiano, owners of all things Italian walked about in Carmel Valley sporting surprisingly little cologne and few gold chains. Some had Fiats that may or may not have crossed into the U.S. legally in the 1990s. By contrast, one gentleman brought his 1963 Ferrari 250 Short-Wheelbase California Spider, another copy of which sold two years ago at auction for $8.6 million. Still, everyone shared the show field with surprisingly little of the pretentiousness that festers over the much more exclusive concours at Quail Lodge just a few miles away. No, I didn't get into Quail; yes, I want to go next year. At Concorso, I ran into a man polishing his 1990 Lamborghini Diablo. It wasn't perfect; it was a frequent driver, one which he said his daughter enjoys when she gets picked up from soccer practice. "What am I going to do when I tell her that this isn't normal?" he said. "I worked my ass off for this car. Not everyone drives a Lamborghini." I remember fawning over the Diablo when I was a kid. I remember that it, like the Countach before it, were pure eroticism put into motion. This guy was the same way. Concorso didn't strike me as a concours in the purest sense of the modern definition. "Concours d'Elegance" means parade of elegance and was first used when it came time to show off fanciful new luxury cars, which is how the Pebble concours got its start. Back then, Chevys were at Motoramas. Now, the term generally means there's an age cap, and the cars generally have a historical significance. Concorso Italiano is now just a place for Italian car owners to congregate; Abarthisti, Ferraristi, Lamborghini fans, and even obscure makes. A row of Pininfarina-bodied Cadillac Allantes were even allowed in, perhaps the first major show to allow them on a field. If it was Italian--even remotely Italian--it was fair game. And when you see a $600 Snuggy car on the same green as millions of dollars of Ferraris, Maseratis, and even some Alfa Romeos, it very quickly establishes that this ain't the most fanciful place you'll go during the weekend, even if it's one of the more enjoyable with owners as eclectic as their cars.
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